Blog Restarted – Smith Island Cake for Kurt’s Birthday!

Too much has been going on in my family these last few weeks.  Easter, preparing for any number of violin auditions and assessments, Kurt’s birthday, and what caused the most chaos for me, Ken’s Florida trip.  To make a long story short so I can get on with my recipe experiments, Ken was attacked by another kid during the trip.  He was clubbed with a cane from Gatorland that had a solid brass alligator handle.  When we picked him up, he was just so devastated by the teachers’ relative indifference towards him.

I recovered, but barely.  More important is that Ken is fine; he feels safe at school and we’ve identified what to do if anything happens again– both with Ken and the principal.  So we keep moving forward!

I have made some wonderful dishes over the last month– but where to begin?  A new banana bread recipe from the King Arthur site with a secret ingredient, the Barefoot Contessa’s take on bouillabaisse– a sumptuous seafood stew flavored with licorice from fennel and Pernod, my first attempt at Maryland’s state dessert– Smith Island cake, a fizzy limoncello cocktail.  So many treats, so little time.

Smith Island Cake is today’s pick because many of my FB friends asked me to blog about my experience.  For those of you not from the “DMV” (the District, Maryland or Virginia), Smith Island is the only inhabited island in Maryland; Smith Island Cake is Maryland’s state dessert.  It reminds me of the Hungarian dobos torte– many thin layers of yellow cake sandwiched between chocolate icing.

The Smith Island version is a bit denser and more difficult to make because it’s a round cake;  dobos torte is rectangular and you can create the layers by cutting up a larger, half-jelly roll pan of cake.  Not so for Smith Island cake– you spread batter on 9-inch round cake pans TEN times.  The dobos torte batter is a sponge; the Smith Island cake is less fragile, a creaming method cake made with evaporated milk.  The icings are also quite different.  The dobos filling is melted chocolate with softened butter beaten in with a bit of powdered sugar and vanilla; the Smith Island cake is a cooked chocolate frosting– like the cake, it’s made with evaporated milk and is very fudgy!

Smith Island Cake, aka Frosting with Cake!

Smith Island Cake, aka Frosting with Cake!

I made the cake for Kurt’s birthday; he requested it after having tried a slice at a local restaurant.  I had no readily available recipe, so I looked online and found one here.   I was surprised to see the use of evaporated milk in the cake, but maybe that was easier to access on an island.  I’m not a fan of cooked frosting, but I was willing to give it a try.  Note:  I had three 9-inch round cake pans, so I decided I was just going to make a 9-layer cake.  Ten layers is traditional.

Smith Island Cake (from Washington Post)

For the cake

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 c (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 c sugar
  • 5 extra large eggs
  • 1 c evaporated milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 c water

For the icing

  • 2 c sugar
  • 1 c evaporated milk
  • 5 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1/4 c (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease three 9-inch cake pans with butter, set aside.

3 pans x 3 for 9 layers.  Too bad #10!

3 pans x 3 for 9 layers. Too bad #10!

Whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking powder) in a bowl.  Set aside.

Flour, baking powder, salt

Flour, baking powder, salt

In another bowl, cream together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy.

Beat until light and fluffy!

Beat until light and fluffy!

Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Make sure each egg is well incorporated before adding the next one!

Make sure each egg is well incorporated before adding the next one!

Add flour gradually and beat on low until incorporated.

Beat on low speed

Beat on low speed

After all the flour has been added, the batter will be very thick.

The batter will be very thick and dense, almost like a paste

The batter will be very thick and dense, almost like a paste

Measure evaporated milk, vanilla and water into a measuring cup.  Pour into the batter and mix until well blended.

Start on low speed so the liquids don't splash everywhere!

Start on low speed so the liquids don’t splash everywhere!

Spoon 1/2 – 1/3 cup of batter into each prepared cake pan; use an offset spatula or soup spoon to evenly spread batter in the pan.  Place pans in preheated oven for 8-10 minutes.  Layers are done when they no longer sizzle and have pull slightly from the edges of the pan.

These layers do not brown significantly

These layers do not brown significantly

Remove from pan and let cool on a wire rack.  Continue re-greasing the pans and baking until you have 9 layers (or 10 if you want).

NINE layers waiting to be frosted!

NINE layers waiting to be frosted!

While the layers are baking, make the frosting by dissolving the sugar and salt in the evaporated milk in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat.

Dissolve the sugar into the evaporated milk

Dissolve the sugar into the evaporated milk

When sugar has dissolved, add the butter and chopped chocolate, stirring frequently til well blended.

Raise heat to medium and stir to melt

Raise heat to medium and stir to melt

When chocolate and butter are combined into the milk mixture, raise heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid scorching.

Cook frosting for 10 minutes til shiny and smooth

Cook frosting for 10 minutes til shiny and smooth

After 10 minutes, take frosting off heat and add vanilla.  Stir and let rest for 20-30 minutes til thickened to spreading consistency.

Whisk lightly to help cool

Whisk lightly to help cool

When the icing is ready, it’s time to assemble the cakes.  Place one layer on a serving plate and place 2-3 tablespoons of frosting on top.

Just enough frosting to create a thin layer of filling!

Just enough frosting to create a thin layer of filling!

Using an off set spatula, spread frosting almost to the edge of the cake layer.

Leave a small unfrosted border around the cake

Leave a small unfrosted border around the cake

Continue building the cake.  When all layers are placed, frost the top and sides with the remaining icing.  (If the icing has become to thick, reheat it on low in the microwave).

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday!

Afterthoughts:

This cake was delicious, but I will change some of the techniques the next time I make it.  I think adding the flour to the mixture followed by the liquid led to a tougher cake.  I will use my usual creaming method; after beating in the eggs one by one, I would alternate adding the flour and milk (always start and end with the flour), beating after each addition.

Secondly, I’ll make the frosting differently.  One reason I hate cooked frosting is that it sometimes gets grainy, depending on how well you dissolved the sugar, how high a heat you use to cook the frosting, etc.  Next time, I’m going to make it the way I make fudge.  Melt the butter first, then add the evaporated milk and let these two ingredients come to a simmer.  THEN, slowly add the sugar to the simmering milk/butter, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.  The 8-10 minutes should be at low simmer as well.  Add the chocolate last, taking the mixture off heat when the chocolate is almost done melting and whisking til smooth.

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Filed under Baked Goods, Desserts, Family, Fancy Cakes, Food

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